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China charges man who urged officials to reveal their assets

BEIJING -- China on Friday formally charged a prominent campaigner for officials to reveal their wealth, his lawyer said, after police accused him of breaking the law by organizing demonstrations.

Xu Zhiyong, who has also pushed for greater civil rights, was arrested in August in a case that exposed shortcomings in the government's drive against deep-rooted corruption.

Western governments have sparred repeatedly with Beijing over human rights and both the United States and the European Union have expressed concern about Xu's case.

Xu's lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, said Xu had been charged with “disturbing public order,” a common accusation against rights activists who attempt any form of protest, and that he was surprised at how fast the case was moving.

“Unexpectedly they've managed to decide within a week that they want to prosecute such a complex case. This is inconceivable,” Zhang told Reuters.

Asked when the trial might be held, Zhang said, “All I can say is that it will be very quick, within a month.”

China has detained at least 16 activists in the asset disclosure campaign, in what rights groups say is the new leadership's first crackdown targeting graft campaigners.

Three of those activists went on trial last week in the poor southern province of Jiangxi.

Last year's once-in-a-decade leadership change, which brought Xi Jinping to power as Communist Party chief, had inspired many Chinese with hope for political reform, spurring citizens nationwide to push for the asset disclosures.

But the detentions signal the Communist Party will not tolerate any open challenge to its rule, despite the claims of greater transparency.

Xu, the founder of the “New Citizens' Movement,” advocates working within the system to press for change.

He had urged officials online to disclose their assets and fellow activists have taken to the streets to exhort citizens to fight corruption.

Beijing police, in a letter recommending Xu's prosecution, said he organized activities to hang banners in public spaces calling for the disclosures and equal access to education.

Xu has also campaigned for the right of children from rural areas, who lack the correct residence paperwork, to be educated in cities where many live with their migrant worker parents.

Xu's activities “created serious disturbances in public order in public places” and he interfered with the work of public security officials, according to the police document.

Reuters was unable to reach Beijing police for comment.

Xu has long been a thorn in the government's side. In 2009, he was briefly arrested on tax evasion charges his defenders said had been trumped up in a bid to stifle his work. The charges were dropped after a public furor.

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